By Ruth Conniff
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is locked in a dead-heat for reelection on November 4, has been dogged throughout his tenure by secret criminal investigations that so far have led to 15 felony indictments of six of his closest aides and associates.
This week, new documents released on a judge’s orders show that Walker, while he was Milwaukee County executive, helped his longtime campaign treasurer get inside information for a bid to lease office space to the county.
In the emails, John Hiller, a real-estate broker and Walker’s treasurer, seeks and receives inside information on a bidding process that he hoped would give him access to public money.
“Would you be open to pulling aging out of the RFP [Request for Proposals],” Hiller writes to Walker.
In a string of emails, Walker aide Cindy Archer gives Hiller valuable financial information to help with his bid, and both Hiller and Archer check in with Walker about their conversations:
“The three vendors have been told to come back with a final and best offer by Wednesday. ... The rubber is meeting the road on this issue. If you can help Hiller, now is the time,” Archer writes to Walker and another Walker aide, Tim Russell, then county housing director, now serving two years in prison for stealing more than $21,000 from a veterans' organization Walker where put him in charge.
Two Walker aides who helped Hiller try to win the contract followed Walker to Madison when he became governor, and are now employed by the state, with six-figure salaries, One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross points out.
Ross, who describes Walker’s administration as “arguably one of the most corrupt in recent history,” is calling for those aides, Cindy Archer and Jim Villa, to resign.
“Archer and Villa have by their own actions disqualified themselves from continuing in public service and ought to resign immediately,” Ross says. “If they won’t leave voluntarily, Governor Walker needs to step in and remove them or cede forever any shred of ethical credibility.”
Walker himself told reporters that the 16,000 emails released this week in the John Doe investigation are a “smokescreen” for a political effort by Democratic Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele and Walker's opponent, Mary Burke, to try to influence the outcome of the November 4 election.
The content of the emails follows a pattern shown in previous emails made public in the John Doe. In them, Walker’s longtime aides use their public jobs to do political work, conduct public business on private email accounts, and appear to involve Walker himself in picayune details.
Walker loyalists, some of whom have been indicted for illegally coordinating political work on a secret email network, took the time in their email communications to mock constituents who depended on them for services.
Here is a joke Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker's deputy chief of staff, received in an email:
"This morning I went to sign my Dogs up for welfare. At first the lady said, 'Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare.' So I explained to her that my Dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddys are. They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care, and feel guilty because they are dogs. So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify. My Dogs get their first checks Friday."
"This is so true!" Rindfleisch responded.
And it wasn't just racist jokes. The policy of neglect, stonewalling and sanctioning the abuse of constituents became the standard operating procedure in Walker's politicized county government.
When news broke about a rash of sexual assaults at the county mental health facility, Rindfleisch wrote flippantly about problems with bad press about "our looney bin."
Walker himself drafted talking points to deal with the public-relations problem with mental health.
Likewise, in the Hiller real estate deal, Walker involved himself in an ultimately unsuccessful bid by his campaign treasurer to make money off the county, changing terms of the contract to make them more favorable for his friend.
Walker told reporters this week that no state business is being conducted on private email accounts. (His aides sent thousands of private emails discussing county business in the recent document release.)
Nor has Walker himself been charged in the corruption scandals that snared so many of his staff and close advisers.
But, as Scot Ross points out, he did bring some of the close aides who were entagled in that mess with him to Madison.
Cindy Archer got her job at the state public defender in a controversial deal that bypassed the normal hiring process and landed her a salary 30 percent higher than her predecessor.
Jim Villa, Walker’s former chief of staff, whose lobbying firm helped Hiller try to secure the real estate deal, got help from Governor Walker to become vice president of government relations for the University of Wisconsin, and now makes $178,000 a year.
And Walker’s helpful connections extend way beyond his loyal aides from Milwaukee.
One of the biggest issues in the current governor’s race is Walker’s economic development plan, which involves handing out big taxpayer-financed gifts to his contributors from the business world, on the theory that would spur them to create jobs.
And Gogebic Taconite, the company moving forward with a massive, controversial mine in Northern Wisconsin, made a $700,000 contribution to the Club For Growth, which was organizing the efforts by Republicans in Wisconsin to defeat the recalls. Walker allegedly encouraged the company to contribute to the Club for Growth for this campaign, though he now denies it.
If Walker himself was so involved in a puny real-estate deal to help his old campaign treasurer, his involvement in bigger deals with bigger implications for taxpayers could mean bigger trouble.